In honour of International Women’s Day 2023, I want to showcase a massive development that has happened recently in the world of competitive paddling. This is the creation of a women’s C1 category in paddling competitions. Previously women have had to compete in an open category with men. This has happened in all disciplines of paddling but for the purpose of this article I am going to focus on the introduction of women’s C1 in freestyle kayaking.
In the Summer of 2022, the UK hosted the freestyle kayaking world championships. Here the first ever women’s C1 competition at a world championships took place. I have invited the incredible women who competed in the first ever freestyle women’s C1 final to be involved in this article. Each paddler will share some insight into the world of C1 and their experiences.
Tamsyn McConchie – Team GB
As both a freestyle coach and athlete, can you please tell us what C1 freestyle involves?
C1 freestyle is very similar to K1 at first look, we aim for the same tricks and even use the same boats. The key differences are that you can only use one blade in a C1 and must be in a kneeling position inside the boat. This usually means the paddler is sat higher up which changes the mechanics at play.
You competed in the first ever women’s C1 women event at a world championships – congratulations! What was your favourite moment(s) of the world championships?
Thank you! Yeah it was all around a fantastic experience. With women’s C1 category it was novel to be ‘going in blind’. It means that you have no preconceptions of how you might do or where you might place. I think this made it easier to just get on the water and really enjoy the experience.
It’s very hard to pick out a single favourite moment but I think it’s probably just before the squirt finals. I was having a relaxed day and feeling pretty good. Just as I’m getting set to get in my boat I can see my partner David getting full of this excited (and probably nervous) energy. He’s usually such a calm person in every situation. Then across the river I saw some of my friends who also all looked full of this energy. I think it didn’t dawn on me until then at how invested other people may have been in me that day, it was endearing.
Knowing that David and my friends had the nervous excitement covered meant that I didn’t have to feel that myself. Oddly I became much more calm because other people were taking on some of that emotion that comes with competing on my behalf.
What are your future plans for your kayaking career, and how do you see yourself making an impact in the sport?
Personally, I want to continue competing, it’s something I really enjoy. But this year I am hoping to branch out a bit, and plan on doing some more white water creeking and races as well as the freestyle. I am also really excited to be able to do some more coaching this year through my coaching company WetRock.
HPP is a fantastic facility and there’s some amazing and experienced paddlers who train here. There are also many talented but less experienced paddlers with a real passion for the sport looking to move forwards with their paddling. The white water course is powerful and that can be intimidating and a big barrier for entry to the sport. Helping someone to get over that barrier and find their feet at the course can unlock so much potential.
I want to encourage the growth of the paddling community here in Nottingham and I think a big part of that is supporting people at all stages of their development. I’ve started running weekly freestyle sessions, and you should see some of the paddlers that are coming along – they’re going to be fantastic!
Anica Schacher – Team Germany
How does it feel to be a part of history as one of the first female competitors in the C1 event at the World Championships?
Before the world championship I was worried if there would be enough participants at all because the final decision of the ICF for a C1 Women’s class was made only half a year in advance. But I was very positively surprised by the number of women who took up the new challenge, supported each other and above all showed that C1W has earned its right to exist. There is simply no reason why we shouldn´t paddle C1!
Congratulations of winning a bronze medal for C1. Can you tell us about the moment you realised you had placed third and how that felt?
The moment was a mixture of relief (the pressure was over) and happiness. In 2020 I worked hard for my goal of a medal at the European Championships in my last year in Junior Kayak, which was cancelled. Out of boredom/frustration I started with C1. Then in 2021 this World Championship were postponed which was a big disappointment. But without the postponement there would have been no C1W class at this World Championship in Nottingham. In the end, I guess it all turned out to be good for something.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing C1 freestyle kayaking?
Use the winter to work on your basics. Practice rolling and getting out of the boat with seatbelts in the pool. If possible, get a longer canoe and work on your forward stroke. In the spring, you will feel more confident in the C1 and you will be ready for the waves. Have fun!
Ottie Robinson-Shaw – Team GB
How does it feel to have won three gold medals, broken world records, and achieved such incredible success at the World Championships?
It really was a dream come true. I feel so lucky to get to push myself mentally and physically whilst working hard at a sport I love. More than anything my gold medals and records were just a reminder that if you find something you love and work hard at it you can achieve anything you want.
Looking towards the next World Championships, how do you plan to maintain your focus and continue improving your skills leading up to the event?
I feel fortunate that the next World Championships is on a wave. Wave Freestyle kayaking v.s hole paddling requires a completely different repertoire of tricks therefore training over the next 9 months is going to continue to be fresh and exciting.
With your impressive performance in the C1 event, how do you see yourself inspiring and empowering other women to take up freestyle kayaking and compete at a high level?
Long term one of my big goals within the sport is to help grow freestyle kayaking on a larger scale. I want to continue pushing the boundaries of what women can do whilst gaining more media attention for the sport as a whole. Looking at what skateboarding superstar Sky Brown has done for women’s skateboarding, I hope if I can continue pushing what women can do, whilst having fun and sharing the journey with your friends I hope we can inspire a whole new generation of young paddlers.
In your opinion, how can women’s C1 freestyle continue to grow? How can this be supported?
I often say “what the kayaking community lacks in money, it makes up for with a kind, loving and supportive community”. Whilst I believe this is true the general lack of accessibility, sponsorship and money in the sport does make it really hard for freestyle to progress. C1 women’s exists thanks to the hard work of many volunteers. GB Freestyle are working hard to create more opportunities for women to try C1 and make boats more accessible for ladies to practice in. With time I hope C1 women’s will continue to grow and I’ll get to enjoy sharing the eddy with even more C1 ladies.
Becky Green – Team GB
Congratulations on winning silver in C1 at the last world championships! What did that mean to you?
Thank you! It feels like so long ago now! Winning silver was so unexpected, it definitely took a while for the reality to sink in. Starting my journey in C1, I always expected it to fall alongside K1 training, to be less significant. Ottie and Tamsyn talked me into it so we’d have enough people to make it an established competition, and even then I spent most of the time (still do) complaining about my feet hurting and that I’ve got cramp in my legs.
Since coming second at worlds I realised how many women were taking up the discipline and how established it could become. There is so much potential and it’s so exciting to see how many women are taking freestyle that step further and are pushing themselves to try it in a canoe. For myself, I’ve definitely come to respect the discipline a little more and am finding it interesting to compare the way tricks are performed in a C1 to that of a K1. Conversations around C1 seem to have opened up, standards have been raised, and I’m super excited to see where we’re going to take it!
You have now qualified for both the C1 and K1 categories for the next World Championships. How do you plan to balance training for both events, and what are your goals for each category?
One of the questions that I get most frequently is that of which category I most prefer and I can never give a response. This is partly because I know that by refusing to prefer spending time in one boat, I will give each the same time on the water and share my training between the two. This is also because I honestly can’t give an answer. C1 has its challenges and, in some ways, is more difficult, but the transference of skills and techniques between the two makes things arguably easier to learn. I have to admit, at the moment, I have no routine in balancing my training between the two; I tend to pick up whichever boat I feel like paddling that day or if I’m learning something in one boat I may stick to just the one for a time, but I try to keep things relatively equal.
Come October and the World Championships my goals are to set down rides which reflect my training and what I know myself to be capable of. I’d like to bring my C1 standard to that in my K1, demonstrating similar rides and tricks, presenting a respectable competition on a wave that I’m a little intimidated to try.
How did you mentally prepare for the competition, especially given the added pressure of being a first-time event for woman?
Everybody’s mental preparation looks different. For myself last summer, I felt fortunate to be on the team competing at my first international event regardless of whether I performed well or not. Even making it to finals in that fifth spot was an achievement for me, so I was able to go into that final round of the competition with a mindset to just represent GB and pray that I could put down the ride I had rehearsed so many times before.
A big thing for me while competing is having the support of others on and off the water. Being able to enter this new event alongside two hugely inspiring women, and for us to just enjoy our time on the water together, has been crazy important, especially with the nerves and the pressure of competition. One of my favourite memories before competing was dancing and getting hyped in the car park at HPP with Ottie and Tamsyn. Just having these friends who understand the sport, who will cheer for you and who you can cheer for, is what makes freestyle what it is.
Congratulations on your fourth place finish in the C1 event at the World Championships! At 17 you were the youngest finalist. How does it feel to have competed against adults and performed so well at such a young age?
For my first ever World Championships I was absolutely thrilled to make it to the C1 final and compete with such talented and inspiring women. That being said, as a junior I was very nervous competing in a senior category. But because all the women competing were so supportive and encouraging before and during the event, I really enjoyed the experience and was delighted with how I performed.
Your entire family came to support you at the World Championships. How important was their support and encouragement throughout the competition, and what role have they played in your development as a paddler?
I spent the whole month of June in Nottingham preparing for the Worlds and having my family there with me made it feel like I was at home. They’ve been at every one of my competitions since I started paddling and having them there is part of my competition routine. Knowing that they were on the bank cheering for me helped with my nerves and confidence during the event.
I wouldn’t be the paddler I am today without my Dad. He got me into the sport, always made sure I had the gear I needed and if my boat or gear were damaged he’d fix them instantly. In Ireland we’re limited to very few freestyle features and they require lots of rain. So whenever Tuam or Curragower were running he would drop everything and sacrifice his own paddling to drive 2 hours there for me to train. All of our holidays abroad revolved around my kayaking and my parents would only go to places with a white water course just so I could paddle.
What do you think the sport of freestyle kayaking can do to encourage more women to get into c1 freestyle?
Having a Women’s C1 category at the World Championships was a huge step forward for women’s C1 and I hope this category will be introduced to every freestyle competition to encourage more women to take it up. For me, I started C1 at a Southeast Freestyle training session, where the club brought a C1 for us to use for fun, and I’ve loved it ever since. So I think that having C1 boats readily available, running C1 training camps and promoting women’s C1 on social media would all be key to inspire women to try it out.
Thank you to Tamsyn, Anica, Ottie, Becky and Béibhin for taking the time to be a part of this article. They are the women brave enough to grow the sport that they love. If you are feeling inspired to give C1 a go – do get in touch with your local club or kayaking groups and go for it!